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The Natural Waves of Infant Sleep

My precious person is 12 weeks old tomorrow.

She is by far and away the sleepiest of my three and she has pretty much slept off her fourth trimester

I’m talking 3 hour day naps and 8-10 hour blocks at night.

Yep, I’ve put up my umbrella to shield the lemons coming my way for admitting that.

She’s one chilled little customer and though she’s had her ‘needier’ days, by and large, sleep has come easily to her.

She’s been boobed to sleep, cuddled, rocked and carrier napped each and every time. She’s easily transferred to her basket and side car cot 90% of the time.

She’s never been ‘taught’ to ‘self soothe’ but she obviously links sleep cycles just fine.

But suddenly, these last 3 days and nights, she’s catnapping like an expert …

She’s barely making 2-3 hours without waking to nurse at night …

Regression’ I hear them cry!

But, with even the smallest amount of observation, I can see my sweet babe is far from going backwards, she’s actually progressing with impressive speed.

Yes, her sleep has changed.

Yes, she is clearly needing more assistance than she did last week.

But a regression implies she has somehow ‘lost’ some ‘abilities’ and this is simply not true.

Her rapidly growing mind and body are hard at work.

She isn’t the same as she was last week.

She’s more advanced and far more ‘awake’ to her world.

Sure, she’s tiring more quickly. She was lasting between 1.5 to 2 hours between naps but after a catnap she’s lucky to make an hour but can you blame her?!?

The hour she is awake she doesn’t stop moving!

Little hands that can now grasp an object!

Little hands that can now open and move things with supreme concentration.

Little voice that chats and experiments with a range of sounds.

Little bright eyes that smile and light up at the sights before her.

Little chuckles and giggles that burst from within

Little legs that kick, push and dig in.

A little torso that twists and arches with attempts to roll becoming closer and closer to reality.

She’s nursing more often, needing more help to calm off to sleep and waking more frequently, but not because she has forgotten some mad sleep skills and in need of re-training.

She may not get back to the 8-10 hour blocks at night for the next month, year or even for life (I never make more than 4-5 hours before waking for a sip of water and/ or a toilet break and I’m 36 years old …) and that is okay.

I’m not sitting here wishing and praying for the sleep to return.

I’ve spent far too much time doing that in the past.

I’m living for the now.

She is only asking of me what she needs right now and I’m here to walk right beside her at this time in her life when she needs me so intensely.

I could ask all the questions, I could keep dreaming of the day, I could lament the hours of sleep lost but I don’t want to waste my precious energy on questions that have no answers and time since past.

I will spend my days in awe of what a small human learns in these early days, weeks, months and years and my nights knowing I am exactly where I need to be.

I’ll ride this wave with my darling and you can be sure I’ll be straight back there with her for the next one and the one after that.

We are in this together, my sweet love and I.

It’s an honour and privilege to be her mum ❤️

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Can we get past the ‘Mummy Wars’ and actually start a conversation?

Dear Clem,

I wasn’t going to write about this as I could see from the comments section of your first article that shit was already way too intense and hot for any good to come of a conversation. I even tried to avoid reading your second article because I honestly wanted to let this alone. But then, I received a message from a friend who sent me your latest article and she asked me how on earth can we even talk on this topic without it being shutdown with the assumption that any talk of it is ‘judging’, ‘shaming’ and stoking the embers of the ‘Mummy wars’ fire.

And she’s right. I have so much to say and so much I’d love to discuss on this but I feel a gag over my mouth for fear of shutting down hearts and minds immediately as the defence wall comes up and the lines of communication fail.

But there is more to all of this than you and I and our unique babies, families and setting.

  • There is the Society we live in.
  • The rules that are set.
  • A culture that is accepted.
  • Mainstream thoughts and beliefs.
  • Yard sticks to measure up to.
  • There is a dominant norm that pervades parenting.

This applies not only to us, as mothers and fathers, but also to our babies, toddlers and children.

There are expectations, shoulds and shouldn’ts

And as a new mother, we want to get it all so very ‘right’ don’t we?

I know I did.

And my goodness, was I out of my depth.

And so I turned to people I thought would know ‘best’ for me and my baby.

I asked questions, I asked for help, I listened and I learned.

I trusted.

I trusted these people above my own feelings on matters.

I trusted these people above what my baby told me was so.

They had to be right? Right?

They’d done this before, for some it was their whole profession.

They knew what was normal, what was acceptable, what was Safe, what was best.

Or did they?

My baby didn’t sleep from the day he was born.

He was your classic catnapping, all night waking, high need baby who only slept happily when in my arms and preferably at my breast.

We did months on end of 20-40 minute waking. No, I’m not a martyr trying to glorify this kind of sleep deprivation. I dealt with this after ‘failing’ at sleep training (Responsive Settling), even after a sleep school stay for support. My baby could not be ‘broken’ no matter how consistent and persistent my husband and I were and you know what happened when all the sleep training methods failed?!?

The system washed their hands of me.

Me, a first time mother who had plunged into PND, with nothing more to add.

No further support.

No further avenues for help.

Left with a head full of sleep training propaganda. Fearing for my baby’s health and development because his sleep still looked nothing like they said he should and if anything, was worse.

If he was ‘chronically sleep deprived and his development would be suffering’ before we launched into full blown sleep training, I was f@#$ing terrified to think what kind of damage his continued waking was causing.

What could they offer?

Nothing.

Nothing at all.

I was blamed and dare I use the hideous word ‘shamed’ for my failure.

I must not have done it right.

I mustn’t have been consistent enough.

It’s because you still breastfeed him.

Etc etc Infinitum

I was in the worst place in hell at that time.

I had done everything, Every. God. Damn. Thing. ‘They’ told me and my baby still wouldn’t sleep.

Was he some kind of defective model? Was he actually trying to kill me?

Maybe he would’ve been better off with a different mother?

But then, I had a phone conversation with a free midwife service I’d signed up for and she was the very first voice in my 6 months of a true baptism of fire into parenting who allowed me space to question whether perhaps, maybe my baby wasn’t actually broken and in need of fixing.

Maybe he actually needed everything he asked of me.

Maybe if I stopped trying to do all the things I thought I ‘should’ be doing to ‘fix’ him and instead just went with the path of least resistance, I may be able to claw back some peace in my world.

She got me thinking of an alternative.

What if I couldn’t stop his waking, what would it take for me to be okay?

And so, my exploration into alternative approaches to sleep training began.

And it continues to blossom today.

I refuse to buy into the mummy wars.

I refuse to pit mother against mother.

I sleep trained and I know full why I did. I know the exact feelings that went into it. I know the thinking and rationale for why I did it.

I own that.

But, I would say that 99.9% of that decision came down to

  • A.Trusting and believing mainstream belief of infant sleep and that my child NEEDED me to teach him how to sleep for his own benefit.
  • B. I was soooooooooo f@#$ing exhausted and sleep training was the only answer I was given to get my sleep back.

This understanding, I believe is key.

My baby did not ever sleep the way Society dictated. He never conformed. But, after looking at all possible underlying health issues that may have exacerbated his normal wakeful behaviour, I learned that he actually slept and behaved like many, human babies do. He was on the extreme end of the spectrum but even then, he was still ‘normal’. Coupled with this, I learned about the myth of self soothing and why his very immature, body and mind were going to need my comfort and help to find and maintain sleep as he grew and changed at an incredible rate of knots.

But I was still beyond, bone achingly tired and depressed.

Yes, the relief of knowing my baby wasn’t broken helped alleviate huge a amount of anxiety but seriously, ‘what about me?’ I couldn’t keep this gig up for any longer.

Something had to give.

But, now I knew more about how and why my baby needed me so, I could begin to work out my life, my support and my situation to make sure I could be alright, too.

I found little to no, information, specifically on this topic but I pieced many things together and worked out was best for me, my baby and my unique family and though things were far from perfect, I found some relief.

For us, that did involve breastfeeding, bedsharing and babywearing.

That does not mean any one of these three things will be the silver bullet for every family.

I have never proclaimed that and it would be arrogant as all hell (not to mention dangerous) to assume such a thing.

Through all of this, my baby continued to wake.

In an extreme fashion.

Every night. Not just some. Not one night off.

Every. Single. Night.

I’m still not a martyr.

He was my baby.

He needed me this intensely and I needed to honour that or my anxiety went through the roof.

So I called in every kind of help I could get.

And because of my privileged life, I came out the other side.

He finally slept for longer than 2 hours at a time when he turned two, but I already had another 4 month old baby, so I was managing those wakings rather than soaking up the longer stints.

Once again, not a martyr. That second baby was a complete surprise and not what I’d recommend to anyone making their way through with an extremely wakeful baby, but it was my fate and it has worked out.

And do you know, I was so incredibly lonely in my experience?

For you see, despite being surrounded by other mothers, many of whom are still my beautiful, treasured friends, not one of them erred from the mainstream parenting beliefs.

They all sleep trained and openly chatted about the successes, set backs, methods and frustrations.

All of them utilised formula at least some of the time in their baby’s first 12 months.

None of them judged me, but they definitely pitied me.

The look in their eyes when I’d arrive somewhere looking like a shattered shell. The many comments about when was I going to try the cot again. The questions about maybe now being a better time to try Sleep Training.

They loved me and my baby but none of them had a clue why I did things the way I did. Not even the ones who knew the whole story.

Guaranteed, none of them would ask ME for advice when it came to nursing or sleep.

Gosh, be careful or the wakeful baby might be catching.

I was alone while surrounded by friends.

Life has changed a lot since then.

I found my happy place with my way of parenting that soothes my heart and feels good in my soul and I now have a great many people in my life who I can talk and share and lean on when I need to.

But, I am still not mainstream.

I am still the weird hippy, crunchy mother (though I can’t identify with either label they are still given to me).

Most people still sleep train.

They do.

It’s why the industry continues to thrive.

It’s why very few people question why you wouldn’t want to do it (actually I suspect people don’t want to know why I won’t do it, in case this may make them look differently on their choices) they just think I’m crazy for not doing it.

Sleep training culture runs deep and it is written all through our society as gospel and as a parenting necessity.

It is unquestioned and unrivalled.

But what if, Sleep Training is just another way to break a mother’s trust in herself and her baby?

When it is ‘God’ and the ‘Cure-All’, where are all those uncomfortable, distressing feelings a mother experiences through the process placed?

At her weak maternal feet.

She must be stronger.

She must persist.

She must ignore the urge to comfort her own child for the child’s own good and her own.

There is just so much more to this.

I can’t dismantle this culture of deeply held belief and doctrine on my own.

And as you can see, conversation is nigh impossible to even start.

So, instead I have made it my mission to at least allow mothers the possibility of an alternative.

I never again, want another mother to feel like she has no other choice than to sleep train.

I never again, want a mother to feel like she must either sleep train or slip deeper into mental illness.

We can and should do better and until we demand better supports and real alternatives, then the majority of individuals will, continue to turn to Sleep Training.

I have established The Beyond Sleep Training Project on Facebook and it turned 1 just last week. We now sit at 15k members and grow by 1.5-2k a month. It is a beautiful space for people to consider their alternatives outside of Sleep Training and you would be more than welcome to join to see it in action. We work with compassion, kindness, support and advocacy and many families have now found their happy place parenting without fear because of it.

I am white, middle class and privileged, but I too, suffered at the hands of the current system.

It is my hope, that regardless of a person’s unique situation, we can all work to find a way to allow that person to parent their baby the way they need to be parented while also being okay within themselves.

I truly believe this is a goal worth striving for and I’d dearly love to have you in on the conversation.

Sincerely,

Carly

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Should we expect sympathy and support from everyone?

 
I have been told on more than one occasion that for someone who talks a lot about empathising and sympathising, I lack empathy and sympathy for mothers who are experiencing challenges.  I have been told I create an ‘us and them’ and a competitive edge to parenting challenges that shouldn’t exist.

I’m a massive over thinker and muller of all things, particularly criticism, so I’ve thought about this a lot and I’ve observed similar accusations being levelled at others which helped me see that this is a greater issue.

In my situation, this relates to my voicing my experience of having to weather hearing people complain of their exhaustion and frustration with their child’s sleep when what they claim is nearly killing them is the kind of night’s sleep I used to only be able to dream of.

Apparently, I shouldn’t feel that way because sleep deprivation isn’t a competition or a pissing contest and maybe that mother who has been getting hours of solid sleep every night while I was lucky to get 30 minutes in a row really WAS as exhausted as I was because we all experience these things differently.

Where was my empathy for this mother while demanding she recognise me?!?

Honestly, merely thinking on this at the height of my extreme sleep deprivation would have seen me in tears of despair.

No one seemed to be able to see me and my struggle in real light without minimising it with faux empathy. They couldn’t give true empathy because unless you’ve lived it, you can’t actually empathise with what was going on a deeper, more meaningful way.

What was needed was sympathy but even that was in short supply.

But where was my sympathy?

Well you know what? As the person at the very fringe of sanity, deep in the hell hole of deepest darkest, relentless sleep deprivation, I honestly had to leave the sympathy for those not so up to their neck in it, to others who could empathise or sympathise without it causing physical anxiety and despair.

There is always someone worse off than us in this world.

That is most certainly true.

It’s true in every facet of life.

It is such an important perspective to keep and I never, in all my time felt like I had nothing to be grateful for.

But, I think this perspective can also help us to recognise in any given context, when someone simply should not have the onus on them to be providing sympathy and support to another.

I say onus as expectation, because I am sure some outstanding humans are able to remove their own struggles well enough to offer the required sympathy and support but I simply do not believe it should be a given.

For me and millions of mothers like me, when I was at my lowest ebb, it near broke me to hear a mother complain of her exhaustion because her baby woke twice the night before. I could not and should not have had to be her support while so heavily in need of support myself.

This applies to other areas, a mother who has been unable to meet her breastfeeding goals and is still processing her experience, should not be called upon to be the source of sympathy and support for a mother who has successfully breastfed but is facing a challenge in her journey.

The mother with a baby in NICU, who is yet to be able to hold her baby freely and has had to witness her baby having painful medical procedures, should not be called on for sympathy and support for the mother of the baby fighting off a cold.

The mother with a chronic illness or pain should not be called on for sympathy and support for the mother temporarily debilitated with an illness while still caring for her children.

In each and every scenario, these mothers DO deserve empathy, sympathy and support but the point is, it does matter where we expect it to come from.

We as mothers often bear incredible burdens.

This mothering game can be hideously lonely and isolating.

We should not be being asked to bear even more burden by our sisters in motherhood by expecting those in extremely vulnerable circumstances to minimise their own significant, genuine struggles in the name of sympathy and support for those who while also struggling, when put in perspective, their struggles are less profound.

I am past the severe sleep deprivation stage now, and I usually average 8 hours of broken sleep a night with good chunks mixed in. I am in a totally different headspace now to back in sleep deprived hell and my ability to offer sympathy and support to those facing all kinds of situations they find challenging has significantly increased.

I CAN be the source of sympathy and support and even throw a little empathy in for good measure.

The space within me that was completely taken up with self preservation has opened up again and I try to fill it with compassion and understanding.

One thing that will forever remain though is my heartfelt love, admiration and fierce defence for mothers mothering their extremely wakeful little firecrackers. They are and always will be my people.

Our shared experience is one of unimaginable relentless challenge. The stamina, the faith, the vulnerability and strength of those who live and survive this will never be lost on me.

It’s okay if you can’t relate. Just try to keep things in perspective. Seek sympathy and support from those who are capable of giving it and forgive those who, in all their humanly glory, simply cannot muster it today.

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Finding Myself After Becoming a Mother

I was someone before I had a baby. 
I was confident, satisfied, stimulated, happy and loved. I felt valued, productive and capable.

I liked me. The old me. The pre-kid me.

I wanted a baby so badly. I wanted to grow a family with my beautiful husband. I wanted to hold my baby and watch him grow and learn. I wanted to learn how to mother. I wanted this big life-change.

But, in all honesty, I never wanted to lose my old pre-child self. I really liked her.

I wanted her AND to be a mother.

So, when my precious little firecracker came along and blew my pre-conceived ideas about how life would be with a baby in the house, I felt completely lost.

Becoming a mother stripped me completely bare.

Over the 30 years of my life that were child-free, life had layered layer upon layer of detail to my identity. Layers of who I was. Layers of how I understood myself to be. What made me, ME.

Birth, Labour and Delivery were the first part of the stripping process.

The vulnerability, the strength, the uncertainty, the power, the completely raw, unfiltered, primal part of me I had no idea was even there was suddenly a new part of my identity. It was equal parts pride and confusion, as I had to process what my body had just experienced, all mixed in with the sudden realisation of what it means to have your very own precious human relying on you.

My body felt foreign to me.

Every day in the immediate postpartum was full of strange, unfamiliar changes taking place within my body. This body I thought I knew so well, was now unpredictable and uncomfortable.

I was tired to my very core and yet strangely energetic and charged.

My heart felt like it was expanding with love too quickly for comfort.

This piece of perfection before me, had I really helped create him?

I was amazed and impressed with the way my body managed to grow, birth and now feed my baby, how incredible was it to know my new powers.

But the days melded into night back into day, back into night again.

I hated the smell of the milk that seem to hang on my clothes. I hated not knowing if what I was doing for my baby was right or wrong. I hated when we couldn’t seem to stop the crying. I hated that I couldn’t put my baby down. I hated that he seemed to be becoming more unsettled and awake every day. I hated that I couldn’t seem to achieve even seemingly basic tasks. I hated our filthy house. I hated that I felt like I should be coping better. 

Surely something was wrong?

And this was only the first few weeks. Surely things would get better. Easier somehow.

Surely one day soon, I’d be able to feel rested once more.

But the weeks crept on. Then the months passed by.

I was stripped, further and further. Layer by layer. Until I could see nothing in myself that was there before.

I was a shell.

That pre-baby me, I loved so well? She seemed to have vanished entirely.

So, who was I then?

Just a mother? Well I seemed pretty shit at that (though my baby was pretty darn incredible so I couldn’t be all bad, could I?).
Maybe I was just my boobs? They did seem to be the only thing that made my baby happy.

Oh, but he also loved my arms. He needed them to hold him tight.

Maybe also my voice, my humming, singing and whispered words, they did seem to bring some peace.

Then I guess my face, that seemed so gaunt, unembellished, pale never seemed to fail to make that baby’s eyes sparkle the moment he’d see me. Sometimes, with the biggest of smiles and other times with arms outstretched and tears streaming down, like I was the only one who could make things right.

And I was tenacious … For months, I had tirelessly (despite being tired to my bones) sought help to try and help him with his sleep until I finally found surrender in acceptance that a part of his unique perfection was his wakeful nature. My tenacity continued but now in the form of my vow to be constant.

More months passed by and still I was constant. he maintained the waking and I kept on responding.

There was no break. Not one night to breathe.

My stripping back continued, despite being convinced there was nothing left to lose, as I shed anything and everything I could to lighten my load and maintain my focus.

Two of the things I shed would change my world for the better-

1. keeping up the appearance that I could cope on my own

2. my tightly held pre-conceived ideas of what mothering should look like.

I started to seek active help for myself (not to fix my baby) and I became open to ideas that would allow me to mother the way I needed to mother, not the way I had decided was needed before I had even met my child nor the way society liked to tell me to do it.

I started to consciously find the light and value in my baby, our day and vitally, in me.

I came to see what was left in me once all the pretence had been stripped away.

Me, when I was pared back to my core.

I started to try to see myself the way those who loved me did.

This process, this extreme stripping of layers, gave me the space to re-evaluate, reinvigorate and redefine myself in a way I had never been able to do before.

Turns out, pre-baby me that I loved so well, well she had plenty of baggage. Her identity was clouded by a mix of things that mattered and things that were just things … superficial.

In the process of losing myself, all that was truly lost is the stuff that didn’t really matter.

More than Three years in, I no longer miss the old me. I am no longer grieving for my pre-child life.

I am absolutely in love with the newfound me.

She is the best mix of the important stuff that made me, me before as well as the learning and wisdom I have gained from the process of becoming a mother.

The incredible part is, I know that I will continue to grow and evolve as my babies grow and their intense needs lessen or shift and the space to just be ‘me’ opens up once again.


Relinquishing control, finding beauty in embracing the flow of life with a baby or toddler, surrendering to the needs of another and making space in my heart and mind.

It’s been one hell of a ride.

This fleeting season where our babies seem to consume all of us and more, provides such an important opportunity for self-growth if only we can free ourselves up to be vulnerable and open to the process.

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Is the Sleep Training culture contributing to the rise in Post Partum Anxiety and Depression?

As with most things I write, this goes against the mainstream narrative and will undoubtedly be brushed off as mere poppycock by those who subscribe to the popular Sleep Training culture but I’m going to say it anyway- Sleep Training culture strongly contributed to my Post Partum Depression and I don’t believe I am alone in this.  

a. ‘But Sleep Training saved my sanity!’

b. ‘I was heading down the path of depression so I used Controlled Crying!’

c. ‘My anxiety was crippling, I had to sleep train!’

Sound familiar?

I was heading straight for the (a) though because we ‘failed’ I was never ‘saved’ and (c) definitely featured in my decision to go the sleep training route. I get it, I really do but here’s where my experience as a ‘failure’ has helped me look at this situation very critically and I’ve come to the realisation that perhaps so many mothers have to be saved by Sleep Training because we are being groomed by the Sleep Training culture to feel like we are doing something wrong when our baby does not fit the ‘sleepy ideal’.

Sleep training culture is so pervasive, it is virtually impossible for a modern mother to remain untouched. It has come through a number of generations now and as such, the advice from older generations who we often turn to as new mothers is riddled with it. Health care professionals hail it as a ‘fix’ and with limited quality breastfeeding education as part of their training, many are ill equipped to advise on the normal development of feeding and sleeping behaviours in breastfed babies and toddlers.

Feeding and sleeping schedules that were so popular while formula feeding was the norm in the 50-70s have tainted what has become the benchmark and ‘norms’ for infant care.

First wave behaviourism struck fear into the hearts about ‘bad habits’, ‘spoiling’, ‘negative Sleep crutches’, ‘self soothing’ and Sleep as a taught skill.

Hands off, distant, independent, solitary sleep, restricted responsiveness, authoritarian, prescriptive and strict- all words that help describe what is valued when parenting very young babies and toddlers.

Being told when you can hold, nurse or comfort your baby is standard.

Being told when your baby should sleep, where they should sleep and for how long is standard.

Being told when you should respond to your baby’s cry and when you shouldn’t is standard.

Being told that your baby only wakes because of the way you help them find sleep is standard.

Being made to fear long term damage to your baby’s development and ability to achieve healthy sleep is standard.

Being made to fear that if you continue to comfort your baby in some way you’ll create a big old rod for your own back and you should break the habit now or expect you’ll have to do it this way forever is standard.

Being told that it is your responsibility to your child that you fix their sleep is standard.

This standard is what I believe is the crux of why so many mothers start heading down the path of depression and anxiety. I sure as hell did.

I bought into the standard and bent myself over backwards, forwards and inside out trying to reach it. The standard that I could not meet, the standard my baby called bullshit on, that standard left me feeling subpar as a mother every damn day.

Every day that I bought into the ‘shoulds’ for both myself and my baby was a day I finished feeling ‘less than’. We never measured up.

Every day of my baby refusing to accept anything less than the comfort and reassurance and assistance he needed drove a wedge into our relationship as I questioned again and again what was wrong with him and why couldn’t he do what he was ‘meant’ to do at his age?

It’s hard to not feel anxious and have your anxiety grow as the noise that surrounds you assures you that every day that your baby sleeps less than they say he should or wakes more than he should or asks for more assistance than he ‘should’ need is potentially affecting his long term health and development.

It’s hard to not feel depressed when yet again you are told it is because you nurse him to sleep and haven’t succeeded in putting him down drowsy but awake and you have to learn his cries that your getting this mothering and sleep business so terribly wrong- THAT’S why you feel so desperately tired and miserable. If you just follow XYZ, then you’ll get the sleep you need. When you’ve already tried these things in desperate vein for the 100 thousandth time to no avail.

It’s hard to feel light, relaxed and at peace with your brand new mothering experience when at every turn you are told you are doing it wrong.

For me and my darling wakeful little firecracker, the road to PPD was paved in Sleep Training culture bullshit.

How on earth I was ever going to get away without eventually succumbing while surrounded by all of this noise is beyond me.

Yes, there are many more factors that may well contribute to the development of PPA or PPD in each unique person but I refuse to believe this Sleep Training culture in anyway sets women up for success and healthy mental health and self esteem in their new identity.

So perhaps, instead of heralding and crediting Sleep Training with ‘saving’ so many mother’s sanity, we should look long and hard at how it took our sanity in the first place.


Mothers of today and into the future deserve so much better than this.

Re-evaluating, resetting and reestablishing the norms of infant sleep from a a biological and anthropological standpoint would be the first place to start.

Only once we can as a society come to a fuller understanding of the reality of infant and toddler sleep will we see a shift that is so needed to undo the damage and twisted accepted norms perpetuated by the current Sleep Training culture.

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Why Responsive Settling Isn’t Truly Responsive

When in it comes to Sleep Training, there are extremes on the spectrum, with Cry It Out at the far end with complete withdrawal of response- shut the door at 7pm and do not open it again until 7am, with more ‘responsive’ techniques sitting somewhere in the middle, down to the gentlest, slow moving, truly responsive options at the far end. Responsive Settling proponents would have themselves down the ‘gentle’ end of the spectrum but as someone who has experienced the technique as the mother of a wakeful baby, I can say that gentle, it most certainly is not.

The sell is strong though and I believe that those who created the technique and those who teach and utilise it, wholeheartedly believe they are responding to the babies entrusted to their care but there is a massive gulf between any response and appropriate response. Responsive Settling whilst more responsive than no response, does not allow a parent to be appropriately responsive to their unique infant’s needs.

Why?

Well I will detail my experience more in a moment but I think first and foremost, the reason that Responsive Settling still so clearly misses the mark is that it still fails to recognise and respect normal infant sleep behaviours and instead works to pathologise and stage interventions on them when no ‘problem’ actually exists for the baby and instead the true problem lies with unrealistic sleep expectations, lack of support for very tired families and a society hellbent on ‘fixing’ anything that has been decided is undesirable or outside the accepted ‘norm’.


(Image: Gentle Parenting Memes)

But even if you don’t buy that, I will explain how the Responsive Settling technique looked in my reality and you can decide for yourself if it really could be responding to a baby in an appropriate way.

A little scene setting for you-

I was a First Time Mum. My baby was born wide awake. He was never a sleepy newborn. Not even the day he was born. He slept for brief bursts during the day, was super sensitive and startled incredibly easily. He hated being down. Ever. He wanted to be in arms or on a chest 24-hours a day.

He cried whenever we put him down and seemed to find the feeling of falling asleep very scary. He’d be all drowsy and relaxed with eyes drooping and then BAM screaming, as though that last little falling feeling you get as you drop off was the most terrifying sensation in the world. I had never heard of the Fourth Trimester. I had no idea that a baby wanting to be held close 24/7 was in the range of normal. All I knew was that everyone around me had babies who looked calm, relaxed, happy to chill out and slept for big chunks of time, flat on their back with little to no help from their mothers. My baby’s night time involved loads of waking but he was usually quickly settled by the boob. I was terrified of bedsharing and felt that I had already created so many ‘bad’ sleep habits already, I didn’t want to add anything more to our repertoire so I was insisting on getting up to him and tending to him in another room. I also had my head filled with the notion that although a newborn may wake frequently at night to nurse, this should lessen over time in a straight line, with him dropping feeds and sleeping for longer without my help.

My baby strongly disagreed.

And so, we became at odds with each other. He needed me intensely but I was convinced he wanted me but didn’t need all that he demanded.

By 3 months, I was exhausted and full of doubts.

By 4 months, I was a wreck. Cue our four-month health check with Child Health. The Nurse listened as I sobbed my heart out detailing my baby’s extremely wakeful behaviour and lack of day sleep. I was desperate for help. The nurse echoed my concerns. She told me my baby was Chronically Sleep Deprived and that she would refer me to The Mother-Baby Unit in our capital city for a stay to help me get the matter in hand. She knew there was a long wait for the public service but if we had Private Health Insurance then she knew the Private Facility in the same city offered the same program using the Responsive Settling technique.

She pointed me to the videos on the Public services website to allow me to have a try of the technique at home prior to our stay.

We attended the Private facility for a 5 day stay 2 weeks later. In the lead up, I tried to implement the strategies I had watched on the website, without any success and much distress for my baby and me. I grew ever more frustrated and intolerant of him as I came even more convinced that he was just being difficult and that he had to learn to sleep so we could all get back to being happy.

I went into the program with a desperate hope.

This HAD to work. I couldn’t for a moment consider it wouldn’t because I couldn’t fathom what my life would be or what we could do next if this didn’t work.

My enthusiasm was there but I had a dull ache in my heart the whole time leading up to the stay that remained throughout. I had never wanted to listen to my baby cry. Why o why couldn’t my sweet baby just find sleep like all the other babies? I didn’t want to do this to him but I couldn’t allow his lack of sleep impact on him anymore. No, I was stronger than that and I would do whatever I needed to meet my baby’s needs and if that meant having strangers keep me in check so I didn’t ‘give in’ too easily, then that’s what I’d do.

And so, the stage was set.

We started off with a meet and greet circle time. We had to tell each other why we were there. I could barely hold my head up as I confessed my child’s ‘sleep sins’ and my role in his ‘bad habits’; there were sympathetic head tilts, a knowing look in the eye, a shoulder rub and word of, ‘it’ll be okay, we can help’ offered up.

Then came the slide show that detailed the game plan. My 4.5-month-old was deemed too old for the ‘Comfort Settling/ Hands on Settling’ group which was for the two newborns present. We were instead with the older ‘Responsive Settling’ group.

We started when it was time for his afternoon sleep.

We had to implement a Feed-Play-Sleep routine and so I had to feed my baby and make sure he didn’t fall asleep, then read him a story, kiss him and tell him it was time to sleep, place him in his cot and walk out and close the door.

Then, I waited by the door, to see what, if any, response my baby would require to find sleep.

The nurses had zero interest in hearing what I thought he needed, or even what I thought may happen next. It was assumed I had never afforded my baby the opportunity or space to try and settle himself before and therefore, we needed to ‘just wait and see as I might be pleasantly surprised’.

Pleasant it was not. Initially, my trusting baby just kicked his legs around and chatted, no doubt feeling safe in the knowledge that mama would reappear soon. But she didn’t. He then started sounding worried. If he could talk back then, I’d say the sounds would roughly translate to, ‘Mama, I’m getting worried, where are you, I need you, where are you?

I knew this, but I wasn’t allowed in. This was just him ‘grizzling’ because he was getting ready to sleep, apparently.

He then ramped it up. I explained that this only ever went one way and it most certainly wasn’t headed towards sleep and if anything, it was driving him ever further from it. The nurse assured me he was okay and suggested I move to the base level ‘response’ while we stayed at the door. We opened the door and ‘shushed’ loudly at him to let him know I was there but it was sleep time and he wouldn’t get picked up. My baby wailed on.

I told them it wasn’t working and they told me to persist a bit longer. He continued to cry.

We then crawled into the room (so as not to give him the false impression we would pick him up), and I patted the mattress next to his head and continued to ‘shush’ loudly, no eye contact was to be made. He cried even more.

I was then encouraged to place my hand on his chest and continue to ‘shush’ him. He was past hysterical by now.

The nurse then told me I could pick him up to calm him as we had to respond to that level of distress as it wasn’t good for him. I scooped him up and soothed my sweating hysterical baby. But, as if it wasn’t enough, once he was calm, down he had to go again. He immediately howled. I placed my hand on his chest and ‘shushed’ but my heart could take no more.

THIS is one of the key moments I look back on with great shame-

I could take no more, so I fled. I ran from that room, without my baby and sat in the hall and rocked in a ball crying my heart out. The nurse had picked my baby up at this point and she rocked him off to sleep as it was decided that was enough for that settle. I should have run WITH my baby, not away from him, but I guess this is testament to how crushed I was.

Once asleep, she came out to find me to assure me we would try again next time and I’d be surprised how quickly he’d learn.

And so, a few hours later, we did it all again. It went almost exactly the same way. The only difference was that there wasn’t that momentary calm at the start. My clever little man knew what was going on and was crying before I could even walk to the door.

Door, shushing, floor, shushing, mattress patting, shushing, chest rocking, shushing, calming hysteria, shushing, place back down, shushing, hysteria, me running, nurse rocking.

This second time, one of the nurses came to me to give what she no doubt thought was pep talk and asked me if I was going to be ‘stronger’ than my baby or not? I told her to p#%s off and get away from me.

Again, a few hours later for bedtime.

My mum came to visit the next morning and was upset by what she could see. She told me my baby looked pale and exhausted and asked what was going on. I told her and she told me that I either spoke up to the nurses and told them this wasn’t working and we needed a new tack or we’d be leaving. I was a mess.

The morning settle was the same so after lunch I started packing our bags.

A nurse saw and came to ask me what I had hoped from the stay. I told her I NEEDED help but I didn’t feel like we were getting anywhere and no one seemed to have any better ideas to help my baby as their way still ended with hysteria and rocking in arms which was no better than I was doing at home anyway.

She asked me what I thought might work, and I told her that if I could at least go to him BEFORE he was so upset, I may be able to keep him calm enough to find sleep. She agreed to support me on the next settle and miracle of miracles, it worked.

I was elated.

It continued to work my way for the next few days there but nights continued to be a challenge as they wanted me to try to resettle before offering a night feed but I needed their help with this as the instant he had me, he wanted the boobs and my husband was a 2.5-hour flight away.

The nurse was ‘happy’ to help but just as they showed no faith in what I told them about my baby by day, they showed no interest in hearing my belief that being prompt was essential because if you allowed him to wake right up, the settle could take hours versus the minutes if he was still drowsy.

So, I’d hear him stir and knowing my baby, I knew this only meant one thing- he was waking and would not return to sleep without help, so I’d go to the nurse’s station and alert her to his waking and ask for her to attempt the resettle. She’d deliberately go slow saying I need to not rush to his side as he needs to try to resettle himself first. At 2am in the morning, I’d say, we talked about this during the day and this DOES NOT work for my baby, please come now or we’ll be awake for hours. Feet.Dragging.Teeth.Pulling.Sloth.Slow movements, before starting the horseshit ‘shhing’ at the door routine responses and then rocking a hysterical baby who was now wide awake and HAD to have a breastfeed to find any form of calm. At least an hour later, I’d finally crawl back to bed only for him to wake an hour or so later and rinse and repeat. It. Was. F^&*ed.

The next day, in daylight hours, I would reiterate the need for prompt response and I’d firstly get reminded that the goal was to get my baby self-soothing and that affording him space was essential. I’d then try to explain the HUGE difference in awake time because of this and they assured me that this short-term pain and extra loss of sleep, would have a long-term pay off that was worthwhile.

I agreed to stick with it. He was sleeping a longer block at the start of the night so I felt that maybe they were onto something and I owed the effort to try and make it work.

So, after 5 days, my baby was sleeping in his cot, settling to sleep without much help and having a longer block at the start of the night.

I left feeling like the wheels of positive change were in motion and I felt positive that with continued commitment, we would have him sleeping ‘well’ in no time.

It wasn’t to be.

My husband and I threw ourselves at the technique with a 300% commitment to being consistent and persistent (bordering on lunacy).

Our baby however, held an even greater faith in us and belief in his own needs and he continued to fight and call and demand our presence with an intensity that was even more than before.

Within a week of returning home, despite adhering to every responsive settling ‘rule’, we were up to 2-hour battles for every nap, every bedtime and ever resettle through the night. It was horrific.

We were all exhausted, frustrated and incredibly at odds with each other.

We WERE responding damn it!!!

We responded to every god damn cry, every god damn whimper (well the whimpers that sounded ‘emotional’ anyway). He couldn’t possibly NEED us, he just WANTED us. This was bulls&*t. Why did he need more from us than they said we should give? WHY? Why wasn’t he learning? Why wouldn’t he just let up?

Our poor baby on the other hand was no doubt deeply confused about why these people who he loved and needed so completely seemed to be so hellbent on pretending like they couldn’t respond the way he truly needed them. Why do they keep standing at the door or tapping my mattress when they know I need a cuddle? Why are they taking so long to let me nurse when all I need is a quick minute and we could all be back to the sleep we all need?

Responsive Settling gives the illusion of response.

Being told how to respond, when to respond and when to withdraw that responsiveness is NOT being responsive. It’s the equivalent of when someone is talking to us and we are busy or can’t really hear so we just smile and nod or say something like, ‘that’s nice dear’. It allows the adult to feel they are doing SOMETHING and therefore they are being ‘gentle’ while they train their baby. It is a disturbing mismatch that plays a significant role in the justification and vindication of the widespread use of these techniques in Public and Private facilities and by consultants around the world.

I desperately NEEDED help. There is an overwhelming need for help for new mothers, particularly those with mental health challenges and those with very wakeful babies.

The Possums Clinic in Brisbane offer the service I needed back then and I can only hope that all service providers begin the rapid shift to their approach. The Possums Sleep Film, should be compulsory viewing for Mums and Bubs groups nationwide and their Professional Development courses would surely see a change for the better in the practice of Frontline Care Professionals.


I hold no malice for the people who worked with me during my stay at the Mother/Baby Unit but it would be wrong of me not to speak up and to demand they reflect on their practice, the impact it had on not only me and my baby, but many of the people they see and to ask, maybe there is a better way.

So, here’s to growth.

Here’s to change.

Here’s to ensuring very tired mothers and babies receive the care and support they deserve and need.

EDITED TO ADD (After being torn apart by a prominent Sleep Trainer)-

Sure, write our hideous sleep training experience off as an exception not the norm.

Minimise the shit out of it.

Justify why it misses the point and sways too heavily away without a balanced counter argument.

Say you feel sorry I didn’t use YOUR service because it would have been handled so much better.

Tell me again why my reality is just scaremongering and far from the real ‘reality’ of the majority who sleep train.

I may be the exception but I suspect not the way the sleep trainers think.

I believe what makes my case exceptional is that we ultimately failed because our baby NEVER gave in.

He rejected the techniques so squarely that we were forced to pull back and re-evaluate the whole situation.

It is a sad reality, that normally, the baby gives in.

They succumb.

They submit.

They give the illusion that their trainers and parents ‘succeeded’.

The first part of my tale … the ugly bit that ended in me running and a nurse rocking my hysterical baby and then us doing the whole thing again next settle because ‘he will learn’ … that bit IS NOT EXCEPTIONAL.

That trauma, I can still replay in graphic detail, that was NORMAL.

No one at the Mother-Baby Unit acted as if this was anything other than a normal, expected part of the process.

No one was surprised.

No one was concerned.

It. Was. Normal.

Do not tell me what happened to me is the exception.

I thank goodness my baby was different.

I thank heavens we were forced to pull back and see this process for what it truly is.

We, the sleep training ‘failures’ of the world … WE are the real ‘reality’.

Our babies are the gatekeepers for all of the babies who simply couldn’t keep going.

They are the voice and the evidence the world needs to see that this sleep training culture is not the support very tired mothers and their babies need or deserve.

So minimise, justify and explain me away again.

But, I’ll still be here and my voice will not be silenced.



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Accepting the Reality of Infant and Toddler Sleep

Imagine if we, as a society accepted normal infant and toddler sleep. 

I mean really accepted it, in all its glory. 

Every part of society, from every generation, every family, every profession, every community, every culture, every religion.

What if we knew and accepted it as expected and respected elements of a child’s development? 
What if everybody knew well before having their own children that their child would need night time parenting for the first few years of life? 
If everybody knew that waking frequently to nurse was the biologically normal way for an infant/ toddler human to sleep? 
If everybody knew that we are in fact ‘carry mammals’ and that our young require near constant contact with a caregiver for the first few months to continue their growth and development outside of the womb? 
If everybody knew that a baby’s and toddler’s sleep can fluctuate a lot  over the first couple of years as they grow and develop at a phenomenal rate? 
If everybody recognised that a baby’s and toddler’s need for comfort, closeness and nurturing at night is just as valid and important as their need for these things during the day? 
What if nobody doubted the value of night time parenting and wouldn’t even for a moment consider that they could trade it off so they could be a ‘better’ parent by day? 

We, as a society, would come at infant and toddler sleep from a whole other place than we do right now.

There’d be no sleep training and therefore no sleep training industry.

There would be less focus on the baby and their behaviour and more focus on the dyad as a dynamic pair and nurturing the nurturer.

There would be focus on all levels from family right through to the political sphere on the kinds of support families need to navigate this time in their lives.

Antenatal classes and Mums and Bubs groups would be all about helping mothers to build their support network and discovering options that will allow them to meet their baby’s needs while also meeting their own.

For mothers who are struggling with intense high needs babies, the support would recognise the extra level of challenge these mother face as they run the Ultra Marathon of her life and help put the supports in place that mother needs and deserves.

Mothers with mental health concerns would be nurtured and treated in ways that respect her child’s legitimate needs day and night.

Families making decisions about paid employment would do so with the full knowledge that their baby will still require night time parenting.

Wouldn’t the world look so different to the way it does right now.?


The stress, strain, struggle and sacrifices made all because so few people know and recognise what has always been and always will be the way our tiniest most vulnerable humans find sleep normally.

I was told that new and expecting mothers don’t want to know that babies continue waking for a couple of years. I was told I was scaring them unnecessarily and that it was the equivalent of telling horror birth stories to a pregnant mama as she prepared to birth.

I strongly disagree.

Knowing and accepting what IS likely to happen as your baby grows and develops is not a horror story. No one knows how your baby will find sleep in this world but one thing is for sure, they will need you and that is not something you need to fear. Instead of fear, it gives room to mentally, physically and practically prepare. It takes away the element of surprise. It removes the angst of ‘shouldn’t they be sleeping better yet?’, ‘why does my baby still wake?’

A birthing mother doesn’t need to hear every horrific tale of every horrific thing that may or may not happen to her. That does nothing to help her towards her own journey. But it equally does not help to tell her that it will be easy, straight forward and you practically just sneeze and the baby falls out without pain/ discomfort.

A pregnant or new mother does not need to hear every detail of every form of sleep torture she may or may not face in the years ahead with her child. But she equally doesn’t need to sprint to some arbitrary finish line that someone has told her and think that her child’s night-time needs will magically cease and her sleep will return to that of pre-baby.

Let’s be real. Let’s be honest and let’s give new parents the very best chance to set themselves up with realistic expectations for the early time in their child’s life where they will be needed just as much at night as they are by day.

I know this may seem like a pipe dream right now, but all it takes is for voices to rise. Mothers and babies of the future deserve better than what is offered up in mainstream society today.

When we know better, we can do better and so, for all of those in the know, it’s our turn to share our voice, speak our knowledge and share with all we can the truths of normal infant and toddler sleep.

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